Pack your bags and get ready for your next adventure in the Land of the Great Steppe – Kazakhstan. Whether you are a nature lover or a culture vulture, you can enjoy the impressive diversity of the country right in the heart of Eurasia and furnish yourself with a cornucopia of memories for the years ahead. To ensure that you make the most out of your journey and avoid the misunderstanding, as there are some cultural peculiarities that might catch the unprepared unaware, we have come up with the list of 10 things you need to know before visiting Kazakhstan.
1. Kazakhstani people do not smile at strangers.
As you may already be aware of partially non-smiling Asian world, do not rush to assume that the locals are unfriendly and you are not welcomed. In contrary, Kazakhstan is well known for its hospitality and generosity. If you are lost and cannot find your way, people will more likely give you a hand, even if they don’t speak your language. Well, I guess, that is exactly how my 50-years old dad happens to make friends from all over the world knowing only two words in English, “Hello” and “Thank you”.
2. Better late than never.
If you have already given yourself some credit about being patient enough that everything moves a little slower during the Spanish afternoon, congratulations, in Kazakhstan, you will get to earn a black belt in patience. Especially if you are invited to a wedding. Especially in the South. Do not ever expect it to start on time. In some regions, as odd as it might seem, it is even considered to be impolite to arrive on time. But don’t you worry, the weddings (and many other significant events) in Kazakhstan are amazing and worthwhile to wait for, where afterward you get your “sarkyt”, a gift bag of food, which is commonly given to show appreciation to the guests attending the event.
3. In Flag we trust
Unlike in many other countries, the flag of Kazakhstan, as a national symbol of the country, is legitimately protected and cannot be used in purposes other than assigned by the Government. No writing on the flag or hanging it on your balcony, unless you want to pay a reasonable fine or end up at a police station.
4. Kazakhstan: where a horse is a national brand
I can assure you that there is a little chance you won’t like the local food. The cuisine in multinational Kazakhstan is diverse, rich and quite affordable. Yet it is the horse meat that is most commonly eaten in Kazakhstan. There is a rich nomadic culture behind it which was centered on the horse as a mode of transportation and nutrition. As Ryan Bell once wrote about the horse meat for National Geographic, “Out of respect for horses, Americans don’t eat them. Out of respect for their horses, Kazakhs do.”
5. If you hate waiting, just hold out your hand.
“If you hate waiting, raise your hand”, states a famous NYC taxi. Do not expect to get NYC yellow cab vibes though. In Kazakhstan, you don’t necessarily have to call a taxi service to get one. All you need to do is to hold out your hand, palm, and fingers down, extending your arm. That said, this gesture will attract official and unofficial taxis, as many locals pick up riders for extra cash on their daily commutes. Normally it is pretty cheap but do a little research on common prices beforehand, as some drivers tend to take an advantage of foreigners, charging them more than usual. Especially, the metropolis Almaty is famous for its “taxi culture”. Although Kazakhstan is a pretty safe place to be, avoid taking a taxi by night, especially if you are alone. The taxi services, such as Uber and Yandex taxi are available too yet you definitely have to get a random taxi at a daytime as a unique experience of having a small talk with a local driver. Oh, by the way, don’t be too surprised if the driver decides to get other passengers on his way.
6. Adhere to traditional gender roles
For men: if you happen to invite a Kazakhstani woman for a date or dinner do not, by no means, expect her to split the bill with you. Otherwise, it might be your first and last date. While pride and dignity are extremely common for a Kazakhstani woman, and she certainly can afford to pay for herself, as the society has traditionally been quite patriarchic. So it is for men to pay for a date and dinner. Be a gentleman and don’t forget to hold the door for her too!
7. Blow your nose in privacy
Tend to blow your nose in the middle of a conversation without hesitation? Avoid doing that in Kazakhstan. The locals find it disgusting, especially at the table. But what to do if you catch a cold and need to blow your nose anyway? Well, the proper behavior in such circumstances would be to keep sniffing until you could reach the privacy of the nearest bathroom. Blowing your nose behind a locked door would not be an issue. After all, when in Rome, do as Romans do.
8. Get over Borat already, por favor
It has been almost a decade since the movie was released, which, in fact, has absolutely nothing to do with real Kazakhstan. Nevertheless, Kazakhstani people are quite polite and might even laugh at your awkward jokes. But do not expect a sympathy after you trigger the Borat thing. Now we all agree that it is time to finally get over the ignorance represented by Borat and instead, recalling the world’s number one undefeated boxer Gennady Golovkin, a.k.a GGG, can be a good move to show your interest and respect towards the country.
9. Get involved in a Tea Party
Drinking tea in Kazakstan is a real thing and fairly can be compared to a coffee addiction in the Western World. Some might even have a headache if they do not have tea for an entire day. However, tea drinking party is an exciting ceremony which brings the family together and unites strangers across the country. While an invitation to drink tea (whether at 2 am in the morning or at classical 5 pm in the afternoon) does not include mere tea; the menu usually consists of a variety of foods, from meat to desserts. Accept the invitation and have your tea either black or with milk. FYI, Kazakhstan consumes over 1 kg of tea per capita, in comparison to India with only 800 gr. per capita.
10. Get yourself some decent socks
Obviously, you won’t be embarrassed for wearing your favorite Spiderman socks with a hole or two as long as you don’t have to take off your shoes because simply nobody can see them. Well, thank me later and get yourself some decent socks before visiting Central Asia. In Kazakhstan, as well as in pretty much all neighboring countries, you are supposed to leave your shoes at the door before going any further into someone’s home or when entering a mosque. Besides, you will most likely be offered a pair of slippers.
For foreigners traveling to Asia for the first time, the local life is certainly a whole new adventure. Kazakhstan, being a home for over 130 nationalities, has a lot to offer due its diversity and rich nomadic history. Thus, being aware of customs and social habits of a certain country is essential to get the best experience out of a journey.